Friday, July 27, 2012

Two Shall Be One. Or Maybe Two.

Mismatched Wedding Rings
Ten years ago, my wedding photographer made sure that we had all of the usual snapshots—including the traditional close-up of the couple's hands, showing off their new wedding rings.

I look at that photo today and have to admit that it looks pretty stupid. The couples with nice hand photos show off the complimentary rings they bought together. They are made of the same metal; they may have even been sold together as a set. It never even occurred to us to buy rings as a set. We were more focused on what each of us, individually, wanted from a piece of jewelry we would wear almost all the time.

Our preference for individuality in wedding rings echoed the respect for individuality we maintained during our courtship. I was a serious graduate student and my future husband was respectful of my need for several daily hours of un-boyfriend-accompanied study time. We were not one of those couples that were attached at the hip. We did not see each other every day. We had both married off several friends who had become downright impossible to be around during their courtship because of their obsession with each other and disregard for everyone else in the world. Our goal was to avoid such obsession. (Various observers have differing opinions of how well we succeeded at this—but at least we tried.)

 In spite of our individualistic natures, I did have high hopes for marital unity. For the inscription on my husbands ring, I chose the phrase, "Two shall be one" in reference to the scripture, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

 My husband interpreted the phrase and its accompanying scripture as a reference to sex, not unity. Apparently, that’s just one more way that we are different from each other. (Fortunately, this alternative interpretation did not reduce the appeal of the message to him—quite the contrary.)

While I hoped for unity, my definition of unity was vague. Unity certainly would not include dangerous arguments in which spouses throw kitchen cutlery at each other, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what unity actually would include, exactly. I had seen some apparently united couples who enjoyed the same hobbies, shared the same opinions, dressed the same, and even looked alike. This kind of unity didn’t seem likely for my marriage. Other couples seemed to unite when one spouse, usually the wife, dedicated herself to serving as an assistant to the other in achieving his personal goals and dreams. I never desired this kind of unity, and to his credit, my husband didn’t, either. Our marriage is a lot like our rings. We're two individuals, not one matched set.

 Although I hadn’t figured out marital unity before I married, at the least, I believed I had pretty much figured out the keys to marital compatibility:
  1. Don’t get married as soon as you’re legally of age.
  2. Don’t marry someone you just met.
I still like these guidelines, but after ten years of marriage, I have to admit that my logic for them was faulty. I thought it was important to really know the person you would marry in order to best predict your potential for lifelong compatibility. That would not be possible if you married someone with whom you had only recently become acquainted. Likewise, I believed that if you married young, you didn’t really know who you were marrying either, because personalities are so likely to change as people mature past the barely post-teen years.

Today, I am more inclined to believe that no one can really predict anyone’s future personality and values under any circumstances—not even their own. People change. Even grown-up people.

When my husband and I were dating, I fretted about whether I could marry someone who was so extremely shy. Recently, I mentioned this to a friend who didn't know us back then and she was surprised to hear that—because he isn't shy. Not anymore. But at the not-so-young age of 28, shyness was one of his defining characteristics.

That hasn’t been the only change. Only a few months after our wedding, my husband became very sick. He is doing better now, but understandably, he will never be exactly the same. My personal changes are a little less explicable. How did I get to be such a crazy liberal (at least, in comparison to the über-conservative culture that surrounds me)? In some ways, we have changed together. Neither of us were parents before we married; we have embarked on this life-altering project as a team.

Now, we are celebrating our tenth anniversary. After ten years of marriage, we are still two unique individuals, but we are not exactly the same individuals as we were ten years ago. Are we united? Well, we don't throw knives at each other, so that's a good sign. But we disagree with each other at least as frequently as we agree. Much of the time, we can't even understand each other, in spite of ten years of marriage practice.

 I still like the abstract notion of unity, but I still can’t define it. I don’t know if we are united. Here’s what I do know: we are committed to each other and to this marriage. We care about each other and we care about our marriage. That is what got us through the first ten years. I am ready for the next ten. Who knows how our individual personalities will evolve again in the future? But I think we can handle the changes together. I am glad I have a caring partner who is committed to walking beside me through whatever changes are coming. We’re not the same, but we are a team. Maybe that is unity. Even if not, it's enough for me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I had a baby. And an electric shock. Not in that order.

I have a standing tradition of reporting my birth stories.  I can't seem to help it.  This one is kind of silly, involving self-electrocution while performing simple household chores, which is not at all the sort of thing they discuss in What to Expect, so I am a bit sheepish about it, but here we go...

I had gestational diabetes this pregnancy, so my doctor offered me the option of delivering up to two weeks early to avoid having a baby that would be too big for an uncomplicated delivery, with the disclaimer that my diabetes had been well-controlled and so I would likely by fine going full-term; it was entirely my choice.  That was when I was 36 weeks along, so I said I would discuss it with my husband and get back to him the next week: #37.

I am generally suspicious of induction and refused to consider one ever before, but then, I had never had any pregnancy complications before.  Also, I was hot (pregnant in one of the hottest, driest summers in history while my entire state was in flame due to wildfires), hungry (that darn gestational diabetes diet that I was resentfully adhering to so well) and hormonal (I was pregnant).  My husband and I read a bunch of lit on the subject, most of which was inconclusive, and asked the opinions of a bunch of smart people, most of whom disagreed with each other, and pretty much got nowhere.

Fortunately, I have a genius friend who happens to be a neonatal dietician who helped me figure out how to make this decision more rationally, in spite of the heat and hunger and hormones.  We followed her advice and among other things, got an ultrasound.  It demonstrated that it was highly unlikely that our baby would be too big for me to deliver vaginally, so we decided to keep him in there. I assumed our baby would arrive exactly three days late, just like all my previous babies had done.

A few days later, I was greatly relieved that we had made this decision because I was struck down with a crazy painful ear infection.  Because I was so extremely pregnant, pain meds were out of the question, (except for Tylenol which proved useless). All of the baby preparations I had planned to do, like getting a car seat and moving my toddler out of the baby room and negotiating a baby name with my husband, fell to the wayside while I spent my weekend groveling in pain.  The ear medicine promised to relieve my pain after about three days, and return my hearing after about seven, which would put me back in condition at Pregnancy Week 39: barely in time.  Labor is hard enough all by itself- I had no desire to do it while sick.

On Monday, the first day of Pregnancy Week 38, I woke up with much less ear pain, just as promised, and eagerly started making myself useful again.  I began the day by turning on the sprinklers and shocked myself.  Ouch.  I should have looked at the sprinkler pump before I turned it on.  The front panel had fallen off, exposing the wiring.  My finger had an entry wound, but otherwise I was fine...but what about the baby? I felt for kicks.  Nothing.  I poked and prodded him.  Nothing.  I drank milk.  Nope.  I panicked.

I called the doctor and was sent to Labor and Delivery for observation.  I looked at the monitor and saw  that my baby's heart was beating at a normal rate.  I didn't electrocute him.  So I felt better.  I also saw that my blood pressure was out of control.  I attributed that to my emotional state and assumed it would go back to normal now that I felt better.

It didn't.  It mystified the nurses, who checked my prenatal records for any signs of previous high blood pressure.  Nope.  And while I was satisfied with my baby's readings (clearly not electrocuted), the doctor was less impressed.  They weren't quite good enough.

So I agreed to that 38-week induction that I had previously refused, although I felt pretty ridiculous for messing up my baby's birth plan by not looking before I turned on the sprinklers.

The induction went smoothly.  They started at about 9 am.  At about 11, they asked if I wanted an epidural, warning me that there was a c-section scheduled at noon so I would need to wait until at least 1:00 for the anesthesiologist if I didn't take one then.  I was in no pain whatsoever, and I was only dilated to a four, so I said, "No, thank you."

At 1:00, I really, really wanted that epidural.  Trying to be a responsible pregnant woman (not the kind who recklessly shocks herself on yard equipment) I asked if I should have my cervix checked first, to make sure I was far enough along to avoid stalling the labor with an epidural.  The nurse said not to worry about it, since I was already on Pitocin.  It would be easier to check me after I got more comfortable, anyway.

I have had epidurals in the past and always felt immediate relief.  However, pain always came back as I got close to pushing time.  This time I did not feel so much relief.  That was easily explained when the nurse checked my cervix.  A ten!

She called the doctor in.  He came quickly, looked under the sheet and announced that the head was nearly out.  With one push, I had a baby! (Before anyone gets jealous that I delivered a baby with one push, please let me point out that my first child came after FOUR HOURS of pushing, and so I totally earned this easy labor this time.)

As the baby and I enjoyed our hospital stay today, my husband bought a car seat  and my mom moved my toddler's clothes out of the baby room.  During labor, my empathetic husband gave me the go-ahead to name the baby with my preferred first name, and I am hoping he will be able to choose the middle name before we need to turn in the birth certificate tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I'm no Katniss Everdeen

My husband and I recently went on an archery date.  He had his own bow about ten years ago, and the target with most of the hits congregated near the center is his.  I had never shot a bow before, but I am proud that I got a lot of hits anywhere on the target at all, and that I did so without injuring anyone.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Childhood Idol

I was thrilled to find this classic photo of me engaged in serious conversation with my older cousin and childhood idol.

My First Experience with Peer Review

It is always exciting when the same old job you have had for years suddenly provides you with an opportunity to try something new.  During the past several months, I have enjoyed my first experience writing a peer-reviewed journal article.

A colleague recommended that I submit more ambitiously for my first try and then try less ambitious journals if that didn't work out, and his advice made sense so I followed it.  I submitted it to a slightly more prestigious journal first (although still rated way, way below the likes of JAMA) and was not at all surprised by my prompt rejection form letter.  After all, I openly acknowledge that I don’t know what I am doing and I had suspected that this was a long shot.

I am grateful now that I received a form letter—later, that same colleague informed me that he occasionally receives personally written rejection letters with nasty descriptions of how worthless the rejected paper is.  A form letter was a much more comfortable kind of rejection.

I immediately revised the paper to meet the guidelines of another journal that was less prestigious but, in my uninformed opinion, a better fit for my study and was thrilled by my prompt acceptance pending revision.

Of course, then I read the full peer review comments and realized that they meant a lot of revision: lots and lots, essentially a rewrite.  But I thank these anonymous people.  Their comments were right on; they agreed with me that my study was interesting and unique and worthy of sharing with the rest of the world; they also noticed, accurately, that I didn't really know how to write a journal article and needed some coaching.  Whoever these peers were, they were smart people.  Their suggestions were good.  In some instances, they actually came out and said, "say this instead..." More often, they told me to do some more research and report some analysis I hadn't previously thought to include or asked me to write out details that I already knew but had neglected to write out in the earlier draft.  I am so glad they recognized my paper's potential and gave me a chance to fix it up.

By the time I was done incorporating their revisions, I actually felt like I had a good paper.  Thank you, anonymous peer people!   I resubmitted the paper, it was fully accepted and I was told that I would receive a proof of the final print version for review within two weeks.

But I still hadn't received it two months later.  I inquired a couple times and was told that they had not yet chosen a publication date for my article and that they would send it to me as soon as that was settled.

Finally, I emailed and told them that I would be leaving work on maternity leave soon and asked if I should get them in contact with someone else who could review the proof if it was completed during my absence.  My proof showed up immediately thereafter!  I have a question for you more experienced journal article writers out there: is this the traditional way to get a proof?  How does one get a proof when one doesn't happen to be pregnant?

Of course, my proof was still missing one important element: the date of publication.  Hmm.  What personal life event do I need to come up with to get that?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sleepy Siblings

I shot this photo after my kids all sneaked into the same bed one night:

And just a few weeks later, I came across this old photo of my sister and I: